Before consumers became chef groupies and gourmet connoisseurs, the penultimate endorsement for a restaurant was: “This is where the locals eat.”
In all the glam and glitter of prestigious awards, it can be easy to forget the value of that hometown advantage. It’s a value measured in more than monetary earnings; it’s about relationships built between guests and servers and chefs and the community at large.
Chef Anthony Sasso, who’s been part of the hospitality group founded by Joe Bastianich and Chef Mario Batali for more than a decade, reminded me of that when we talked about his recent move to La Sirena’s Tapas Bar.
Of Casa Mona, where he worked for 13 years, Chef Sasso said, “I knew every guest by first name. I knew which days of the week they came in, what time, where they would sit, what they’d eat. At Mona, you know everybody you’re feeding: There’s Steven every Friday at 6 o’clock; there’s Greg every Saturday afternoon; there’s Juan every Sunday at 1:30. The other B&B restaurants are like that as well—the same people come several times every week; they celebrate their special occasions at the restaurant. Those places are packed because of the neighborhood they’re in.”
It’s a different story at Tapas Bar, located in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, which Sasso describes as “a conglomerate neighborhood,” with daytime workers coming and going as well as tourists, thanks to the Google offices and Chelsea Market located in close proximity.
“We’re so close to New Jersey that basically everyone who eats here on the weekend—like probably 80 percent—are from out of town. On the weekdays it is a little bit more neighborhood [traffic]. But if you compare this place to the other B&B restaurants, there are a lot more tourists here.”
That’s a different dynamic—moving from the intimacy of serving regular customers to the anonymity of building meaningful experiences for an ever-evolving clientele. It’s not that one is preferable over the other; it’s just that operators do well when they set expectations and strategies to the market.
And it’s certainly feasible to target both locals and tourists. Check out the story about how Andrew’s Coffee Shop, another Manhattan mainstay, managed to boost its year-over-year sales 5 percent by engaging more proactively with TripAdvisor. In Charleston, South Carolina, Edmund’s Oast drives one of its busiest weekends of the year when it co-hosts a beer festival.
And if you want to read about the city that may top the list for having restaurants ready to satisfy both everyone’s craving for neighborly hospitality as well as a bucket-list status, then the feature on San Francisco is just for you.